How to Stop a Dog from Biting Strangers and Kids: Methods and Tips Worth Considering
Many breeds out there are famous for their friendly, cheerful demeanor most of us associate with dogs. However, there are still some that resort to excessive biting from time to time. Thus, figuring out how to stop a dog from biting won’t be the easiest thing we’ll ever do. More often than not, it entails knowing in advance which situations may make the dog act this way.
In essence, a few bites here and there, if the dog has already mastered bite inhibition, won’t do much harm. Yet, we never know when a dog might react violently to other people, children, animals, or even exterior factors. Some dogs become quite aggressive when there’s something that’s making them nervous, like fireworks. Others resent toddlers because they remind them of other dogs. So, they can resort to biting to “protect” themselves.
Whatever the cause of the biting is, it’s important to analyze when it might occur and find a way to teach a dog how to stop without traumatizing it. Because of that, this time, we’re going about it a bit differently. By discussing how dogs react to strangers and children, we’ll learn more about biting and whether it can be stopped or not. But first — let’s see if biting is even the issue.
Mouthing, nipping, and biting: is there a difference?
To learn how to stop a dog from biting, we first have to take a minute to highlight all the differences between nipping, biting, and mouthing. Even though all three types of behavior may seem quite similar, there’s a huge difference in the dog’s intent behind each one.
Mouthing usually occurs in the teething stage, when the puppy is trying hard not to get annoyed by all those new pearly whites coming in fast. In that stage, it’s irritated, and its gums hurt. As a result, it needs something to soothe the itching.
Unfortunately for most owners, this is exactly when the dog might resort to mouthing our hands, feet, etc. The good news, though, is that it’s not doing it to harm us. In fact, mouthing is a rather important life stage. It teaches the dog bite inhibition, i.e., the dog slowly learns what strong bites can do and how to keep them as soft as possible.
On the other hand, nipping is often seen in both puppies and excitable adult dogs. It’s closely related to the way we move, as that can make the dog slightly more excited about playing with us than we might want.
When we move, we often move faster than a dog can, which stimulates the dog and makes it want to chase us. Thus, it usually resorts to nipping our ankles, pant legs and calves in an attempt to get a reaction from us.
In most cases, nipping isn’t that dangerous, as it’s presumed the dog already knows how to keep its biting under control. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t become more aggressive over time, especially if dogs find certain people’s manner of walking a tad more irritating than our own.
For example, children are prone to chasing around the house, jumping up and down, etc. To a dog, that’s rather exciting, so it may not be able to control its impulses enough and NOT react to it.
The issue? Children’s skin, their pain threshold, as well as their eagerness to pet a dog with all their strength, can easily lead to crying and bloodshed, leaving the dog a bit traumatized and fearful — which, as you may presume, can lead to full-on biting later on.
And then we have full-fledged biting, which entails contact with the skin. If a dog is aggressive enough, it can sometimes even draw some blood and continue exhibiting the same behavior if we reinforce it. Furthermore, if it hasn’t learned bite inhibition, either from its mother or from other dogs, its bites, even if they’re practically harmless, will hurt a lot more than regular mouthing and nipping.
Thus, biting has to be stopped before it becomes a huge problem in an owner’s life. But remember — we’re the only ones who can teach a dog how to stop biting. We cannot rely on their impulse control, as if they’re going to learn it naturally. In essence, proper training, exercise, and the right toys can help us nip this problem in the bud, depending on the situation.
First, let’s start by learning how to stop a dog from biting guests and strangers.
It’s a commonly known fact that dogs can sometimes “recognize” bad people. Thus, they might try to bite a person purely because they seem dangerous and are maybe looking to harm their owner.
The problem with this is that owners can be held financially responsible because of their dog’s behavior. Sometimes, aggressive dogs can draw a lot of blood and cause irreparable damage to a human’s psyche and overall health. So, it’s obvious we need to control our canines, no matter how nicely behaved they are at home.
How to stop a dog from biting strangers: figure out why they’re trying to bite others
The best way to determine why the dog is biting is to pay attention to its behavior. If this is a newly found dog trait, then something in the dog’s environment must have changed. There’s always a reason a dog is trying to bite someone, and it could be related to:
Now, that doesn’t mean a dog will instantly bite anyone it sees. As said, dogs are not like that. They can sense if someone is trying to harm them or their owner. However, no matter how noble their reason for biting is, we have to put an end to it by teaching the dog bite inhibition.
Additionally, we ought to take precautionary measures if we own a breed that loathes strangers. Chances are, no amount of training will stop a strong, naturally territorial dog from biting someone if their impulses prevail. And, unfortunately, we cannot always count on our training techniques. So, if you need to use a muzzle, head halter, or harness, do it, especially if you’re about to take the dog for a walk somewhere where there are lots of strangers.
How to stop a dog from biting strangers: finding a solution to the root cause
Anxiety and fear in dogs are often the main reasons they start biting others around them. Something in their environment is causing them to act this way, so it’s necessary to help them fight their urges. For that, a proper dog trainer is the best solution.
We, as dog owners, are prone to finding excuses for our dog’s behavior, and thus are sometimes unable to teach them well. A dog trainer, on the other hand, can be objective and use special techniques that can help every breed out there.
How to stop a dog from biting strangers: try not to cause even more anxiety
To stop dogs from biting others, we have to:
- Start properly training them from an early age. Otherwise, we run the risk of not being able to correct the behavior later on.
- Reinforce good behavior whenever possible, as much as we can. That way, the dog will slowly start to differentiate what’s good and what’s bad.
- Provide plenty of chew toys and overall entertainment, as well as enough exercise. A tired dog won’t bat an eye at a stranger, let alone bite them, especially if they’re just passing by it at the park!
- Prevent bites by using things like harnesses and muzzles, especially if we’re not sure whether the dog is ready to face a large crowd of people. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Not only are these four basic things going to help stop a dog from biting others, but they’ll also lead to less tension and anxiety in the household. Thus, the dog will start to relax a bit, and after a while, learn that strangers won’t hurt it.
Another important aspect is SOCIALIZATION. Some dogs aren’t able to trust people right off the bat. Because of that, it’s necessary to start socializing them from an early age. The more time they spend with people, the less they’ll be anxious around or afraid of them. Thus, in most cases, biting won’t even occur.
How to stop a dog from biting children
Now, unlike adults, children have softer skin and are generally more prone to bruising. Furthermore, adults mostly know how to act around dogs that may or may not bite. After all, we are well aware of the fact that just because a dog is friendly towards its owner, it doesn’t mean they’ll be keen on becoming friends with us as well.
However, children don’t know that, and much to our own dismay, it’s rather difficult to teach them how to act around both puppies and adult dogs. Just like dogs have to learn bite inhibition, kids have to be taught “hug inhibition,” or rather, how not to choke a dog when trying to show their love.
On the other hand, we wonder — is it even safe to let children hug dogs, no matter how well behaved they seem to be? As it turns out, when a dog is in pain or is otherwise feeling unwell, the last thing we would want to do is try to hug it. In most cases, even petting the animal could lead to biting — and it’s entirely normal!
Still, let’s first see what might trigger a dog to bite a child and what might be the possible solution to curbing such behavior.
How to stop a dog from biting children: the most common triggers
Though it seems unlikely that a Great Dane would be scared of a small child, fear doesn’t always have to be based on appearance. What can trigger a dog and make it bite a child is the way kids act around it. More often than not, they are quite lively and would love to play with the furball, even though they might not even know it that well. Because of that, they run towards it and try to express their love both loudly and strongly — which can easily scare the dog!
Think about it — at the dog’s eye level, everything seems so big and frightening. Thus, it’s no wonder they would become quite fearful if they saw a pair of tiny feet running towards them or a pair of tiny hands slowly clasping around their neck. To them, a child isn’t that small; it’s almost the same size as them and could easily remind them of other dogs, some of which they don’t really like that much!
Stress is a known biting trigger in dogs, as it makes them quite anxious and untrustworthy. We often notice dogs change their behavior as soon as a situation becomes too stressful for them to handle. Their bodies go stiff, and they glare at us without any reason whatsoever.
The problem is — children aren’t that great at reading dog body language. In most cases, their parents either never taught them, or they haven’t even tried to socialize them with animals at all. Thus, they might not know how to act around a dog — but will still try to pet, hug, or even ride it!
Another possible cause of stress is a huge change in the environment. Traveling, moving away, or adding new family members, like children, can easily compel the dog to protect its territory. It doesn’t matter to them whether the child is cute or not, or if its intentions are just to pet it. They can bite if their personal space is somehow in danger and if they have never interacted with a child before.
What’s more, even if they have let children pet them in the past — who’s to say they haven’t changed their mind about them? Some dogs can naturally gravitate towards children in their puppyhood, but dislike them in their adulthood. Something happened in the meantime — some sort of a bad interaction — and they’ve become rather resentful of children. The issue here is, though — how could we know that’s the case if we remember that our dog used to like kids? That’s why general precautions are necessary!
How to stop a dog from biting kids: the trick is to teach children how to interact with the dog
Because this is such a widely discussed topic, and most dog owners are parents too, let’s explore some of the methods we can employ to keep both our children and pets safe.
If you’re wondering how to stop a dog from biting your child, it’s high time you paid attention to how the kid is acting around animals. It’s crucial to teach them how to interact and not get carried away with all the petting and chasing.
Let the kids know that dogs too have personal space
One of the most important parts of training both our kids and dogs how to behave is to set up some ground rules. So, the first thing we have to do is talk about personal space.
Some dogs are particularly sensitive when anyone, even a child, approaches their personal space. Kids often love doing this so that they can get a better look at the dog. They shove their faces in front of them to admire them!
However, this sort of movement (remember, it will be a bit sudden and too swift for the dog to back away from the child) could easily lead to biting. Thus, it’s imperative to introduce children to dogs slowly and never let them get near them with their faces. In fact, before we’re certain that the dog won’t bite, it’s best if we keep a child’s hand in our own and interact with the dog that way. By doing so, we would be able to remove both the kid and us from the situation if the dog doesn’t appreciate the interaction.
Dogs on the street or in the park
The first method we can teach our kids is to always ask the dog owner if they can pet the dog. In most cases, the owner will never say that they can if they know the dog has already bitten someone. Frankly, some of them might say “no” even if the dog is friendly and likes kids. In the end, no one wants to risk it!
In any case, the child should know to ask permission before proceeding to pet the dog. What’s more, before they pet it, they should also ask where the dog likes to be touched. Some dogs don’t like it when someone touches their tail or their ears. Most of them, though, like getting a nice belly rub.
Pet, pause, pet
Now, just like puppies, kids can get super excited when they see something they are interested in. Furthermore, if they like what they’re doing, they’re unlikely to stop as soon as we tell them to. Thus, sometimes, they might keep petting the dog even though the dog is clearly uncomfortable. Because of that, we also have to teach children to pet, pause, pet.
That entails helping a child learn when it should remove its hand from the dog’s body and observe its reaction. The pause doesn’t have to last too long — about five seconds will do. But, it’s necessary either way. In those five seconds, the dog might step away from the child, fighting the urge the bite. On the other hand, it might show interest for the child to keep petting it.
In essence, with this method, we’ll allow the dog to remove itself from the situation if it doesn’t like it. What’s more, we’ll show the child that sometimes, they have to let something go for it to come back. At some point, the dog might need more cuddles and will “ask” the child for it. But even then, the pauses should continue. After all, children are not that great at recognizing when enough is enough.
Teaching children when they should leave the dog alone
Another way we can stop a dog from biting a child is to teach the kid in advance when a dog should be left alone. Sometimes, it’s not that obvious. We’re used to dogs loving cuddles, kisses, and attention in general. However, there are a few telltale signs even a child can learn how to recognize. We can categorize them like this:
Signs of an unsure, possibly scared dog
- Fast, low tail wags
- Tails between the legs
- Mouth closed tight
- Eyes wide enough to see the whites
If we notice any of these signs, we could be dealing with a scared dog. Therefore, it would be best to tell the child that the dog doesn’t want their company and would like to be left alone.
Other signs include the dog averting its gaze or pulling its ears back. These are “red flags” that indicate something is going on with the dog and that it might harm the child if it bothers it.
Signs of an aggressive dog
- Stiff tail pointing upwards
- Stiff posture
- Slow breathing
- Barking or staring at the child
Of course, an aggressive dog is not a good playmate for a child, especially if the kid hasn’t been around dogs all that much. These are just some of the signs we have to be on the lookout for, and you could say they are quite obvious. However, what makes sense to us might not make sense to children. Thus, it’s crucial to “reinforce” the idea that such a dog shouldn’t be approached.
General tips on keeping kids safe around dogs
If you can, supervise
It’s always tempting to leave a child alone with a friendly dog. Still, we have to remember that we cannot control what can happen in the meantime. Thus, supervision is crucial, as it will allow us to separate them if needed.
Some dogs might display friendly behavior at first. After a while, though, they might bite if the child still hasn’t learned how to interact with the dog. Therefore, prevention is key with kids and dogs, even if we’re talking about puppies. Mouthing and nipping, though usually completely safe, can still lead to plenty of harm and trauma for both creatures.
Try to avoid bribery
Most of us think that giving a child some treats so that the dog approaches it is what will help them get familiar with each other. However, the problem with this is that treats won’t help the dog act naturally around the child. More importantly, bribing the animal won’t stop the kid from getting scared if the dog tries to snatch the treat from them.
Thus, it’s better to avoid using bribery as much as possible. Let them get to know each other slowly while being supervised. If any trouble comes up, we can always separate them. We can limit interactions until both “parties” learn that neither one of them wants to harm the other one.
Remember to nurture age-appropriate interactions
Lastly, we should always remember that age-appropriate interactions are what will help dogs and children grow their friendship naturally. That means that we have to pay attention to how the kid is acting and what they want to do with the dog, and vice versa.
Even if our child is begging us to let them walk our Great Dane, we cannot rely on the dog’s impulse control so much. We cannot be sure that it will like the idea of a child pulling on the leash, nor can we prevent it from running away and dragging the child with it.
Furthermore, rough-housing may be a nice way to spend some time with our dog — but can we honestly say nipping doesn’t bother us just a bit? In the end, anything too exciting can easily distract the dog, so it might forget about impulse control. Thus, it won’t make a difference between the child and us. That, of course, could lead to bites, in most cases, either out of fear or excitement.
How to stop a dog from biting: tips for making your life a bit easier
Everything we’ve mentioned so far can help resolve biting issues, whether we have a puppy or an adult dog. What’s more, nothing is stopping us from using the children methods as a general precaution in our own lives too.
However, there are a few tips that could either prevent the biting from ever occurring or help you stop it. All you have to remember is that figuring out how to stop a dog from biting will require some perseverance and patience, as well as a lot of care, attention, and most importantly — distraction.
#1: Get as many chew toys as you can
Most dog owners underestimate the power of chew toys, which is a mistake the majority of them regret later on. Of course, buying dogs toys can sometimes seem a bit excessive. However, these aren’t just useful for when we want to entertain our pooches.
They are quite handy if mouthing is an issue. Additionally, we can use them for training the dog to stop biting our own hands and feet. All we have to do is throw them a chew toy, preferably their favorite one. They’ll lose interest in us and go after it immediately.
On another note, chew toys are also necessary if we want to distract dogs from biting strangers, children, etc. They’ll help us refocus the animal, as unlike people, the toys are familiar to it.
#2: Socialize the dog from early puppyhood
As mentioned, a lack of socialization is one of the main reasons dogs might not be as comfortable around other people and children as they are around us. Thus, it’s imperative to start the socialization process as early as possible, even if the dog is still just a puppy that doesn’t understand the world around it.
We have to get it used to different voices, hands, touches, and types of movement. We should let it learn someone’s scent so that it can be comfortable around them. More importantly, we have to allow it to explore with its mouth to learn bite inhibition.
#3: Focus on obedience training
An obedient dog is less likely to bite anyone, as it has been taught to react to its owner. So, if possible, try to start obedience training in early puppyhood too. Create a routine out of it; let the dog get used to it so that it can view it as something that can only make its life better. That way, it will grow into a confident dog that’s not easily startled by children or guests. What’s more, you’ll be able to control its behavior. Even when a situation gets a bit out of hand and the dog is faced with things it hasn’t experienced yet (like a child throwing itself on its back to ride it), you’ll know how to help it refocus.
#4: Don’t stop the growling
Dog owners tend to view growling as a huge red flag. Still, in most cases, it’s just a telltale sign that a dog doesn’t feel comfortable in a particular situation. Because of that, we shouldn’t yell at it or resort to any sort of punishment. It’s a warning sign that means “I might not be able to control myself — help me!” So, rather than stop it, we should pay attention to it and leave (the room, park, etc.) with it if there’s a chance the dog might give into its impulses.
#5: Slowly introduce new challenges to reinforce good behavior
Lastly, after a bit of training and learning how to stop a dog from biting others, we still have to make sure biting doesn’t ever happen again. Because of that, we cannot simply stop after we see it hasn’t bitten an unknown child. There’s still a chance it might at some point. So, instead of relying on our proven success, we have to go one step further by introducing new challenges.
Those can be anything and everything we can think of. If the dog gets particularly aggressive around food, we should wait until it stops growling to introduce a new challenge. We could, for example, ask someone else to bring it food. Then, all we have to do is wait for a reaction. If it doesn’t try to bite, it gets a treat. If it does, we work on it a bit more and then try again.
Over time, the dog will learn that biting isn’t something it should engage in around adults or children. But, we have to give it time and introduce new situations as often as possible. The more experiences it has, the less likely it will react abruptly to them. New situations will be familiar enough not to cause stress, fear, or anxiety.
Final thoughts on how to stop a dog from biting
There are many reasons a dog will try to bite. However, with this article, we’ve tried to tackle the two main issues most dog owners have — how to stop a dog from biting strangers and children.
We tend to view our dogs as saints — there’s no doubt about that. Still, saint-like dogs are raised; they’re not born with perfect bite inhibition or ability to ignore loud children. Thus, stopping a dog from biting will entail the use of chew toys and treats. In fact, we might even have to use muzzles until we know for sure the dog won’t harm anyone.
But don’t worry! Anything is possible, as long as we have the best intentions and the will to work on a problem for long enough to reach the right solution!